Why Boris Johnson was sacked from the shadow cabinet

Tory leadership contender faced scrutiny over his private life long before recent furore over row with girlfriend

Boris Johnson and Michael Howard
Boris Johnson (L) was sacked by Michael Howard (R) in 2004
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Boris Johnson is in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons amid reports of a row with his girlfriend that saw police called to their London flat.

The Tory leadership front-runner has refused to answer any questions about the incident, during which neighbours dialled 999 to report overhearing a loud argument between him and Carrie Symonds.

His reputation has taken a further hit after The Observer obtained unused footage from a documentary by US filmmaker Alison Klayman that suggests he received guidance from Donald Trump’s controversial former campaign manager Steve Bannon last July, in the same week that Johnson resigned from Theresa May’s government. The MP has previously dismissed reports of links with Bannon as a “lefty delusion”.

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As Johnson now faces new questions about his character and judgement, the focus is back on his past behaviour, says the Financial Times - including the scandal that bought his shadow cabinet career to an end in 2004.

So what happened?

Johnson married his first wife, Allegra Mostyn-Owen, in 1987 after they met at Oxford, but split after allegedly having an affair with author and lawyer Marina Wheeler, whom he married in 1993.

Johnson then met fellow journalist Petronella Wyatt when he was the editor of The Spectator and she was one of his columnists. The two began an affair shortly before he was elected Conservative MP for Henley in 2001.

As The Sun reports, news of their relationship hit the British press in 2004, along with claims that Wyatt had fallen pregnant and had an abortion.

Rumours of the affair had dogged Johnson prior to the revelation, and only one week earlier he had dismissed the allegations as an “inverted pyramid of piffle”, according to The Guardian.

He also scored an own goal by repeating that claim to Michael Howard, then Tory party leader. Howard subsequently asked Johnson to resign, and when he refused, sacked him from his roles as the party’s arts spokesperson and vice chair.

How didJohnson respond?

At the time, Johnson said it was a “wretched and lamentable day when people’s private lives can become used in political machinations”. He added that Howard should not have made the decision to sack him “in response to tabloid stories about my private life” .

An unnamed friend told The Daily Telegraph that Johnson felt that “the whole thing has been handled pathetically badly” and that he “feels it is private life and nobody else’s business”.

When challenged over the incident by BBC journalist Eddie Mair during an interview in 2013, Johnson refused to comment - a strategy he is sticking with over the latest furore, too.

At a Conservative Party event in Birmingham last week, Johnson was relentlessly grilled over his row with Symonds, with interviewer Iain Dale repeatedly asking him to clarify what happened.

The Tory leadership hopeful responded: “I don’t think people want to hear about that kind of thing. What they want to hear is what my plans are for this country.”

The Sun reports that some party supporters “jeered” Dale and cheered Johnson’s response. Yet Dale continued to press him, insiting that “if the police are called to your home, it makes it everyone’s business”.

“You are running for office, not just of Conservative Party leader but of prime minister,” Dale added.

In response, Johnson told the audience not to “boo the great man” but claimed that he had “tried to give my answer pretty exhaustively”.

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